Athletics Australia Hall of Fame
Pam (Kilborn) Ryan AM MBE (1939 – )
Pam began her athletic career in the late 1950’s and exhibited her great talents early when she won the long jump and pentathlon at the 1958 Victorian women’s championships at Royal Park representing University High School’s athletic team. She was duly selected to represent Victoria at the Australian women’s championships in Sydney where she came sixth in the 80m hurdles, fifth in the long jump and won silver as a member of the 4x110 yards relay team. Pam would go on to win 32 state titles in sprints, hurdles, long jump and pentathlon.
At the 1960 national women’s titles in Hobart, Pam finished third in the 80m hurdles in 11.0, behind 1956 Olympic and 1958 Commonwealth medallists/finalists Norma Thrower and Gloria Cooke who both ran 10.9. Both Thrower and Cooke were selected for the 1960 Rome Olympics and Pam was considered unlucky not to have joined them.
In those days (until 1962), the women’s national championships were only held every two years. Pam’s sprinting was still not at the level she would eventually reach and she was eliminated in the heats of the 1962 national 100 yards in Adelaide. She only managed fifth in the 80m hurdles but did win the long jump with 5.63m beating Olympian Helen Frith by 2cm.
However, Pam came back strongly later in the year winning her way into the British Empire and Commonwealth Games team. The 1962 Games were held at the newly constructed Perry Lakes Stadium in Perth and Pam had a very successful campaign, winning both the hurdles and long jump. In the 80m hurdles she was up against fellow Australian Betty Moore who was living in and representing England. Betty had set a world record of 10.5 in Germany in August and was the favourite, but Pam won easily clocking 10.9 to Betty’s 11.3. In the long jump Pam jumped 6.27m to beat Frith once again.
At the 1963 Nationals in Brisbane Pam won the hurdles (10.7), long jump (5.95m) and pentathlon (4,425 points) and was a member of the winning Victorian 4x110 yards relay team. Her next challenge was clearly the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
The 1964 women’s Nationals were in Melbourne and Pam won the hurdles in 11.3 into a strong headwind. She finished second in the long jump with 6.17m to Frith’s 6.24m. The relay team was second but Pam was off to Tokyo and considered a strong prospect.
At the Games, Pam’s training partner under Henri Schubert, Judy (Amoore) Pollock took bronze in the 400 metres. Two days later it was Pam’s turn in the hurdles. In a very close race three women hit the line together with the photo deciding the result. All three were given the same time of a windy 10.5, which would have equalled the world record. Germany’s Karen Balzer was given the win in 10.54, from Poland’s Tereza Ciepla 10.55 with Pam third in 10.56.
A week later in Osaka, Japan, Pam officially equalled that world record at the USA v Commonwealth v Japan meet.
In February 1965 she became the undisputed world record holder when she ran 10.4 in Melbourne. A few weeks later she retained her national title in Perth in 11.0 into a stiff headwind. In the 100 yards she finished second in 11.0 behind visiting US athlete Debbie Thompson into another big breeze. She also finished third in the long jump with 6.12m and was a member of the winning Victorian relay team. In December Pam recorded a windy 10.3 at a Sandringham club meet.
The 1966 Nationals in Sydney also served as the selection trial for the upcoming British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica. Pam won the hurdles in 10.8 in a close race with Lorraine Staples (10.9), was second to Frith in the long jump with 6.09m and won relay gold with Victoria.
In Kingston Pam retained her hurdles title with a time of 10.9 over local champion Carmen Smith-Brown (11.0) and was a member of the gold medal relay team which defeated England. She was unable to retain her long jump title finishing seventh with 5.81m.
At the 1967 Nationals on the North Hobart Oval, Pam won the hurdles on grass in 10.5, just a tenth outside her world record beating Jennifer Jones (10.6) and a young junior, Maureen Caird (11.0). She also won the long jump with 5.97m and finished fourth in the 100 yards in 11.8. It was relay gold again.
The following Nationals were in Adelaide and Pam retained her 80m hurdles title in 10.5 to Caird’s 10.6. Organisers also included the 100m hurdles as this event would be replacing the 80m event after that year’s Mexico Olympics. Pam won in 13.4, which was a world best, as official IAAF records would not count until 1969.
Pam’s major rival in Mexico was to be the Soviet hurdler Vera Korsakova who had lowered the world record to 10.2 and defending title holder Balzer. However no one had counted on the young 17 year old from NSW, Caird who got off to a great start and won in 10.39 from Pam 10.46 with Taiwan’s Chi Cheng third in 10.51. Pam also ran the 100m and ran a pb of 11.50 in the quarter finals but was eliminated.
The 1969 Nationals were at Brisbane’s home of rugby Lang Park and Pam won both the hurdles in 10.7 and a windy 13.1. Pam had run a legal 13.3 in the heats, which would have been a world record. She was second in the long jump (5.82m) and the relay and fourth in the 100m.
Selected for that year’s first Pacific Conference Games in Tokyo, Pam won the 100m hurdles in 13.3. and during the same year set three world records over 200m hurdles - 26.1 in Singapore, 26.0 in Brisbane in November and 25.8 in Melbourne just before Christmas.
Pam surprisingly lost domestically for the first time in many years at the 1970 Nationals in Melbourne to Caird with both clocking 13.3. In the 200m hurdles Maureen again won in 26.3 to Pam’s 26.5 but Pam still took gold in the relay.
The 1970 Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh with record numbers of competitors. All three Australian hurdlers were controversially entered in the pentathlon so they could get a hurdles run before the main event. Pam ran the fastest with 13.32 windy, with all pulling out after the hurdles. In the hurdles proper Pam was too strong winning in 13.27 from Maureen’s 13.73 with Penny McCallum (later Gillies) fourth in 13.82. She collected another gold in the relay.
Pam ran 13.4 in October 1971 and then set another world record for the 200m hurdles in November of 25.7. Now a discontinued event, Pam remains the world record holder.
The 1972 Nationals were held in Perth and Pam lost the 100m hurdles narrowly to McCallum both clocking 13.3 with Caird third in 13.6, all three being selected for the Munich Olympics. Pam easily won the 200m hurdles in 26.4, and won another relay gold.
The Olympic team travelled to various cities in Europe to compete prior to the Olympics and in Warsaw Pam equalled the world record with 12.5. She had run a windy 12.6 in the heats and was ready for Munich. She broke 13.0 in both heat and semi and got off to a great start in the final, in which she was opposed by seven East Europeans. None of the runners could match the world record holder Annelie Erhardt of East Germany who set a world record of 12.59, running away from the field. Romanian Valeria Bufanu was second in 12.84, with Balzer third in 12.90 and Pam fourth in 12.98.
Pam also made it to the quarter finals of the 100m and ran in the Australian relay team that finished sixth.
This brought down a curtain on a wonderful career which had seen Pam dominate the domestic and Commonwealth scene and on many occasions, that of the World.
Pam’s involvement in athletics was not yet over – she became a successful coach, official and administrator. By 2008, the results of Pam’s hard work were more than evident in the current crop of junior hurdlers making national youth and junior teams.
Richard Hymans, IAAF World Records
Mark Butler, Olympic Athletics Statistics
Rob Whittingham, Stan Greenberg, Paul Jenes, Athletics at the Commonwealth Games
Gerald Lawson, World Record Breakers in Track and Field Athletics
Paul Jenes, Peter Hamilton, Australian Athletic Results